Aberrant promoter DNA hypermethylation of tumor suppressor genes is a hallmark of cancer. This alteration is largely dependent on the action of de novo DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) early during tumor progression, which supports the oncogenic role for these enzymes. However, recent research has identified several inactivating mutations of de novo DNMTs in various types of tumor. In addition, it has been shown that loss of de novo DNA methylation activity at advanced tumor stages leads to the promoter DNA demethylation-dependent expression of specific oncogenes. These new data support the notion that de novo DNMTs also have an important role in the maintenance of DNA methylation and suggest that, in addition to acting as oncogenes, they also behave as tumor suppressors. This potential dual role might have clinical implications, as DNMTs are currently considered bona fide targets in cancer therapy.
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